Ethington Series Takes Serious Turn With ‘Dracula’
By Doug Carroll
How could GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production possibly top the success of last year’s Ethington Theatre Series?
Sophomore Nathan de Laet was wondering the same thing over the summer as he reported for rehearsals of “You Can’t Take It With You,” the comedy that opened this year’s series in early September. Dean Claude Pensis supplied the answer early on.
“Last year was fun,” Pensis told the student cast, “but this year will be a step up.”The challenge required some psychological marination by de Laet before he could tuck into it.
“I thought, ‘Holy cow, they expect this of us,’” he said. “But then I thought about what an awesome opportunity this year is. I have friends at other schools who can’t get into shows.
“Work is a blessing. And it’s an honor to work with such hard-working and lovable people (at GCU). Each show, they find something new in themselves.”
Last year’s Ethington series intentionally served up lighter fare. The University’s reintroduction of theatrical productions after a four-year hiatus was no time to trot out the likes of “Macbeth,” Pensis reasoned in putting on five comedies, one of them creatively staged in the campus swimming pool.
The new season isn’t using the pool, but it’s going deeper. Stephen Dietz’s 1996 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” which opens a two-weekend run on Friday night, is a serious treatment that will have “yelling, pain, tears and blood,” de Laet promises.
“It’s an intense show,” he says. “We laugh when people ask if it’s comedic.”
De Laet plays Dr. John Seward, the administrator of an insane asylum near Count Dracula’s home, who realizes that the love of his life has been bitten by a vampire. The production is directed by GCU alumnus Michael Kary, perhaps the most distinguished graduate of the school’s theatre program, who now teaches on campus.
“He’s nontraditional,” de Laet says of Kary, who had a starring role in last year’s “The Pirates of Penzance” and is revered by the current crop of students. “He’s big on telling a story, but not always the same story. It just has to be a real story.”
De Laet, a graduate of Phoenix Christian High School, was in church plays and school productions as early as the seventh grade. A turning point came when he played the title character in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in high school.
“That role really connected with me,” he says, “and that was the first show where I felt a part of a theatre family like the one we’ve got here.”
Ironically, he played the role of Charlie Brown’s would-be murderer in “Dial P for Peanuts,” an eccentric satire last spring that was directed by Kary and written by David Hayes, then a GCU instructor.
“Dial P,” though completely off the wall, was instructive in its own peculiar way for de Laet and the other student performers.
“It changed my perspective on acting and made me see the fun in it,” de Laet says. “That’s a big step. Art needs to come from the heart and not from the mind.”
Work on a production involves living with the script, being flexible (“A play can change up until opening night,” de Laet says) and employing tricks such as reciting lines with a pencil in your mouth (for improved diction).
When the lights go up, it’s all worth it.
“You spend hours on it, and it enters a deeper level,” de Laet says. “You build the foundation, and then the adrenaline enhances it. The audience makes the hugest difference. We’re doing everything for them.”
“Dracula” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday over the next two weekends. For tickets, call the Ethington Theatre box office at 602.639.8880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or email@example.com.